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Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Light Novel Review: Zaregoto Volume 1, Kubikiri Cycle

Author: Nisio Isin
Illustrator: Take
Genre: Mystery
Translator: Greg Moore

Sorry for the lack of updates from but between my higher education matters, my latest translation project and this absolutely addictive piece of literature I simply could not find the motivation or the time to write up any new manga reviews.

To be honest this is not the first light novel I’ve read but it is the first legal copy of such a publication I’ve ever possessed. Because of this, I was inspired to start writing reviews of light novels as well, starting with this one as my impression of it is still fresh in my mind. To this day, I have read installments of Fate/Zero, Kara no Kyoukai, Toradora, Zero no Tsukaima and of course the Suzumiya Haruhi series. I will probably write those up occasionally if I am in the mood to do so. Oh, before I forget, I should explain the concept of these “light novels”. Light novels are serialized novels from Japan that come with illustrations of various scenes and characters from the story. Quite a number of anime nowadays are adaptations of light novels as many of the stories of this form of literature are aimed at target audiences similar to those of anime.

Let me clear things up about this particular story first because there is no way in hell that you could call this a “light” read. I’m quite adept at English, come up with far too many story ideas to write out and am also very well versed in the mechanics of theoretical time travel but even I had trouble keeping up with the writing style at first. Nisio Isin’s first person POV writing style is, just as the protagonist frequently brings up a lot, utter nonsense. I’ll explain this bit later but all you need to know is that the writing style will be difficult for most people. When you combine that with the space saving format that they use, you end up with a story that takes just as long to finish as one of later volumes of the Harry Potter books(I took 5 hours to finish off Phoenix and I know that is very fast for most people). Those 300 pages of the protagonist’s highly eloquent and articulate babbling made me feel as I if I had just finished reading Order of the Phoenix in one sitting.

The story revolves around sealed room plots on a deserted island where the owner of the island invites genius’ to visit her on her island and stay for a while. The main characters for this story are Kunagisa Tomo and her best friend who’s only known as Ii-chan throughout the story. The story is told from Ii-chan’s perspective so that makes him the protagonist of this story and this proves to be an effective way to pull the readers in as his thoughts come off as very amusing and relatable.

Now back to what I meant about the writer’s style. Things really twist around in our hero’s head much like our very own(or at least mine) so there are times where he asks one question only for him to repeat what he just thought as an answer an thus you get several cryptic sentences in one paragraph that may take some rereading to figure out what Ii-chan is talking about. Then there are lines when it really seems like he’s holding a conversation with someone else but it’s still all just in his head. It is simply chaotic, grammatically criminal, utterly confusing and pure nonsense – and I find this peculiar narration of his to be quite invigorating and challenging mentally. Incidentally it is quite difficult for me to imitate his style here to use as part of my review.

For a story of the mystery genre, the sealed off island murder plot didn’t seem all that inspired really. While Ii-chan may not have been able to figure out how the criminal’s scheme worked until the end of the novel, I was able to work out who the murderer was along with how and why the gimmicks were done with the exception of how the perpetrator managed to get out of the second sealed room (which was rather unconventional to say the least) by the time the third incident happened because it really narrowed down the suspect list. When I was a kid I wanted to be a detective because I liked solving conundrums so I was pleased with myself for solving the mystery and immediately picking up on all the clues that were necessary to solve this. What was really inspired were the two character twists at the end of the book and at that point I could only mirror Ii-chan’s reactions to them. I completely missed the first one but I had an inkling when it came to the second one because I couldn’t figure out the “Why?” behind their actions. Basically, the author ended what would have been a decent mystery with excellent dialogue otherwise into an amazingly detailed and brilliant misdirected mystery with excellent dialogue.

The characterization is superb for this story. The author first introduces the skeleton of the characters’ personality and gradually builds on tops of that foundation by slipping in subtle hints through all the dialogue. It’s quite amazing how the author manages to use some of the hints meant for other characters and also use them to form pictures of other characters, including ones that don’t really have much image until late in the story. The first twist at the end makes use of the up till then solid image of one character to basically turn two characters’ images topsy-turvy and it, in all seriousness, makes perfect sense. That twist wasn’t a necessary factor in the plot and really seemed to be there mainly for shock value and to make way for the final twist at the end. It was a interesting way to end the case and it certainly played up one of the themes.

Speaking of themes, Nisio Isin seems to have a fondness to include motifs that centre upon the concept of genius as shown here and in his manga Medaka Box. All of the female characters in this story are quite eccentric by society’s standards and half of them have reputations as world class geniuses. The idea of what a genius is, what defines a genius and how genius’ are treated by the rest of the world is brought up in at least half of the pages in the book. It’s even used as foreshadowing for certain twists in the plot and that echoes back on all that’s been said. It also plays into the relationship between Ii-chan and Kunagisa, digging very deeply at the core of things often through some rather harsh words from the other guests at the island followed by quick but frequent bouts of angst in the protagonist’s head.

I do find something unusual about the illustrations used in this book though. Most light novels include illustrations of characters and scenes but for some reason there are only illustrations of characters only and no scenes at all. With a mystery novel you’d think they’d at least have pictures of the crime scenes give strengthen their images but since most of the focus goes to the dialogue and motifs I guess it serves its purpose sufficiently enough though I really would have liked to see what the river of paint looked like.

Overall the book is simply a wonderful read. It makes one think about the various motifs featured in the story while providing multiple points of views about them through the winding and twisting dialogue and characterisation. Hopefully SHAFT will animate this when they’re done with Katanagatari, another one of Nisio Isin’s works. I really would suggest this to anyone who likes reading and I would suggest that Del Rey hire another translator to work on the remaining eight novels. It’s not that Greg Moore did a terrible job. Quite the contrary; he did a terrific job of translating this novel and having managed to match the author’s style as well. I know these books are abnormally text heavy for light novels and that translating a novel is nowhere near as easy as translating manga so I can accept the long delay between releases. However, when you’ve got fans like me who wants to read more of this nonsense and the 2nd translated volume is to be released almost two years after the first then you can see why they really need to get more people working on this. To summarise my review I’ll use a question:

So what exactly makes this such a fantastic book?


1 comment:

  1. Is there an English version of this novel?
    If there is, can i have a link to it?
    If there isn't, why did you make the review in English? Thank you very much.


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